How to Prep Vehicles for Winter Weather

How to prep vehicles for winter weather.

  • Make sure the air filter is clean for consistent engine operation.
  • Check and, if necessary, clean the battery posts and make sure the connections are tight. Check the condition of the battery, as freezing conditions drain a battery faster. Replace the battery if it is close to the end of its lifecycle.
  • Install new windshield wiper blades.
  • Check the windshield washer fluid reservoir and be sure it is filled with the proper fluid to avoid freezing.
  • Inspect for worn-out parts, belts and hoses. Cold weather can cause belts to crack and break. Bulging hoses indicate weak spots in the hose and should be replaced as needed. Replace any parts that are worn down or damaged.
  • Check the heater to make sure it is operating properly.
  • Check all fluids to ensure there is enough oil, coolant and other necessary fluids.


Check tire tread, Tabel advises. Worn tires can compromise a vehicle’s traction when it is wet and slippery. To get the best traction, tires must be properly inflated.

“If you use chains, be sure they are the correct size for your tires and know how to properly install them.”


One of the newest items in the maintenance checklist appears courtesy of the EPA 2010 emissions regulations, specifically for diesel engine models using urea-based diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) in their emissions control systems,” observes Bill Mohr, Mitsubishi Fuso Truck of America’s director of service operations. “The freezing point of DEF is 12 degrees F, so it is likely to freeze in many northern locales.

“However, virtually all medium duty trucks’ emissions systems are designed to accommodate this. The 2012 FUSO Canter, for instance, includes both a DEF tank heater and line heater to ensure proper operation even in extreme cold.”

He provides these other winter maintenance recommendations:

  • Check and maintain engine heaters. While medium duty trucks have typically used block heaters to keep engine oil warm, some newer models use oil-pan heaters. These units are mounted to the pan and heat the engine pan and oil directly, so they can be smaller and more efficient than block heaters. Block heaters, on the other hand, are typically mounted 12 inches or so above the oil pan and generally heat the engine coolant, which in turn conducts heat to the block to aid in cold-weather starting.
  • Check coolant both for proper level and for longevity. “Coolant life is typically specified by the coolant manufacturers at 24 months, so if coolant is older than that, the system should be flushed and the coolant replaced,” he says. “While the antifreeze properties of the coolant may not dissipate with time, additives that provide corrosion protection, anti-gumming and other ancillary protection functions do break down with time, compromising overall performance.”
  • Service the fuel filter and drain the water separator to prevent freezing.
  • Test the battery and clean the connections. While battery degradation occurs much more rapidly in hot weather, it is under the high starting load batteries face in cold weather that they typically fail.
  • Check windshields for minor chips and pitting. As temperatures decrease and sheet metal contracts, stress on windshields can increase. Have small chips repaired to help avoid crack propagation and the need for a full windshield replacement.
  • Check windshield wiper blade condition and replace as necessary.
  • Check and fill windshield washer reservoirs regularly, being sure to use proper winter dilution levels.
  • Check heater/defroster operation, including function/position of the directional vanes in the system to assure effective defrosting.
  • Check tire condition and make sure tread thickness is a minimum of 5/32-inch for winter driving. For harsh winter conditions, consider a truck with a limited slip differential - an option on many commercial trucks.
  • Check exhaust systems, particularly on gasoline engine models, to assure they are free of leaks. Sitting in slow-moving traffic, creeping because of heavy weather or parked with the engine running to maintain cab temperature can increase the risk of carbon monoxide entry into the cabin.
  • On diesel-engine models, check glow plug operation.
  • Check ABS operation at the start of the winter season, even if this requires a variance from the regular brake maintenance schedule.
  • Clean the cab, body and undercarriage regularly to remove road salts in heavy snow areas.
  • Keep the radiator frontal surface clean and free of bugs, dirt and debris.
  • Check the operation of heated mirrors if so equipped.
  • Check all belts and hoses, and replace as necessary.

Remember that safety extends beyond your own fleet to people you share the road with, so check mud flaps regularly, and replace as necessary.


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